Challenged by Wilderness(and Rasta Jason)

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The ~40 mile Devils Dome Loop in the Pasayten Wilderness of the North Cascades is one of the Washington classic backpacking routes. The entire Rainshadow Running Staff(Candice, William and I) ran the route a few years ago but we cheated and took a boat ride to skip the flat miles along the lake making the run marathon distance.  So when Ras, aka Rasta Jason, aka jason vaughn, aka Ultrapedestrian Ras, announced his latest quirky new running endeavor, The Ultrapedestrian Wilderness Challenge, which pits individual runners(or 2 runner teams) vs. the Devils Dome Loop over a two month span at the end of the 2013 summer, I knew I had to do it. Due to a part of the federal law The Wilderness Act which forbids all competitive events in Federal Wilderness the Devils Dome Loop and any of the other amazing routes in the Pasayten will never be used for a race but Jason came up with the closest thing possible.

Even though I signed up and even tough I really wanted to run the full loop I was as usual these days very busy in August and September this year and I was starting to worry I wouldn’t find the time to get out there and run it. That’s when my new friend, Danny Gnojek from Summit County, CO, called to say he was coming out to the Northwest and wanted to run something big. He had found the Challenge on the web and had already signed up. Danny and I met when we both joined our mutual friends on another classic mountain route, the Four Pass Loop near Aspen, CO. We then hooked up again at Hardrock when he was pacing another runner from the Four Pass run, David Wilcox. We had less than 15 miles to go when they caught me and could’ve easily passed me and beat me to the finish by more than an hour as I was mostly walking to the finish at that point but they refused to abandon me and my pacer, Candice who was also on the Four Pass run. What camaraderie and sportsmanship! David wasn’t doing so well either with severe foot pain so really it was Danny and Candice that were holding us all together.  Anyhow… I knew running another long mountain run with Danny would be a good thing.

Danny only had a short window of time when he could do the run and I was pacing  Candice at Cascade Crest 100 the upcoming weekend so we chose the date as far away from Cascade Crest as possible to do the run, which was a whole whopping 3 days. But I wasn’t running all 100 miles, Hyak to Mineral, so running 40+ miles a few days earlier shouldn’t be a big deal right? As it turns out it wasn’t the pacing job that I should’ve been worried about– I should’ve been worried about surviving the Challenge! Since running Hardrock about 5-6 weeks earlier I hadn’t really been running much, and at Hardrock you don’t really run much, and then there’s the 2-3 weeks of taper before Hardrock so I hadn’t been regualarily training since spring time!

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So just like at Hardrock, I was a hurting unit and Danny was there being his helpful, cheerful, in good shape self. Right from the start of the run I felt off and even considered turning back after just 20 minutes. The Devils Dome Loop is pretty remote especially once you get a few hours in so if I was going to quit the sooner the better. But I didn’t. I hoped I just needed to get warmed up. Nope. Things only got worse. The first section along the lake went ok as I forced myself to run faster than my body wanted knowing these miles could be the easiest miles of the whole run. The middle section is mostly steep uphill and ridge running up on the dome–and definitely the highlight of the run with 360 degree views of all the ragged, jagged, glacier capped mountains everywhere. By the final, mostly downhill, section I was a wreck barely able to jog. Every step was so painful. Danny, I thought to myself, must be totally sick of “running” with me but he showed no signs of changing from the super nice guy he always is.

We started soon after sunrise thinking we’d easily get done before dark, Danny didn’t even think of bringing a light. But I’ve spent way too many days out in the mountains that for one reason or another ended up going slower than anticipated that I rarely go out for a run like this with out bringing a light. Plus we both had our phones that had flashlight apps. But not wanting to be out there after dark(and not wanting to keep Danny out there forever, again) gave me just enough motivation to power through the pain to get us back to the car just at dark. Total time 12 hours 4 minutes. Danny could’ve done it way faster 🙂 With out Danny I would’ve been out there all night 🙂

Don’t let my report scare you away. It’s beautiful out there, just like almost all of the other big routes in the Pasayten. Next summer you should give it a try.

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